New York Rep. Hakeem Jeffries launched his bid for House Democratic leadership on Friday, a historic move in which he would succeed speaker Nancy Pelosi after two decades of leading congressional Democrats. If chosen, Jeffries, a progressive, would become the first Black lawmaker to lead a party in Congress.
He has widespread support among Democrats, including from Pelosi as well as House Majority Whip James Clyburn of South Carolina and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland, both of whom said they will also step down from their leadership roles.
A rising star in the Democratic Party, Jeffries was born in Brooklyn, New York, and studied political science at the State University of New York at Binghamton and received a master’s degree in public policy from Georgetown University. He also attended law school at New York University School of Law where he was on the law review.
After law school, Jeffries clerked for late federal district judge Harold Baer Jr. of the US District Court for the Southern District of New York, was a lawyer for Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP and was litigation counsel for CBS and Viacom Inc.
He started his career in politics after being elected to the New York State Assembly in 2006. In 2012, he was elected to New York’s 8th congressional district, which includes parts of Brooklyn and Queens. During his time in Congress, Jeffries has pushed for policing reform, including a national ban on chokeholds following the death of Eric Garner, a Black man who died in 2014 after being held in the restraining move. He was also instrumental in the passage of the First Step Act and co-sponsored the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act that passed the House but failed in the Senate.
Jeffries also co-sponsored the Music Modernization Act, a bill that overhauled laws related to how songwriters are paid when their songs are licensed or played. It was signed into law in 2018.
In 2019, he became chairman of the Democratic caucus, making him the youngest member serving in leadership. Jeffries was part of a select group of lawmakers who were impeachment managers during the Senate trial of then-President Donald Trump, in which he referenced lyrics by late rapper The Notorious B.I.G. when outlining the House’s case against Trump. He has also been a member of the House Judiciary Committee, Budget Committee and Congressional Black Caucus.
In a letter announcing his leadership bid, Jeffries said he hopes to “lead an effort that centers our communication strategy around the messaging principle that values unite, issues divide.” He also praised the past leadership but said “more must be done to combat inflation, defend our democracy, secure reproductive freedom, welcome new Americans, promote equal protection under the law and improve public safety throughout this country.”